Damien Duff was last night left to reflect on the end of a dream following the Republic of Ireland’s bruising defeat by Spain.
Thursday night’s 4-0 drubbing in Gdansk means Ireland’s involvement at Euro 2012 will come to an end with the final whistle against Italy on Monday evening, falling short of the hopes with which they arrived in Poland.
Duff said: “I dreamed, like everyone else, of going the whole way. It is obviously not going to pan out as we had all hoped, but what can you say?”
The Republic went into the game knowing they were up against it after losing 3-1 to Croatia in their opening Group C fixture, and well aware that only a positive result at the PGE Arena in Gdansk would give them any chance of making the quarter-finals.
In the event, they were simply blown away by the reigning world and European champions on a night when they were once again made to pay for mistakes at the back.
Duff said: “We didn’t help ourselves at times. Even at 1-0 at half-time, you come out and think, ‘Right, let’s keep it at that for 20, 25 minutes, maybe they will get a bit nervous’.
“But we didn’t help ourselves. You are going to be pulled all over the place, really, with them.
“We did well at times and defended well at times, but we then went and shot ourselves in the foot again.”
Fernando Torres was the chief executioner as he helped himself to a double either side of David Silva’s cheeky finish, and by the time substitute Cesc Fabregas completed the scoring seven minutes from time, Ireland were well beaten.
They now face the prospect of trying to stop Italy from sending them home pointless in a game which is far from a dead rubber for their opponents.
Thursday’s draw with Croatia means the Italians have only two points from their opening two games with Spain and Croatia both on four.
As a result, they have to win and even then, a 2-2 draw between Spain and Croatia would put them out, a similar fate to the one they suffered at Euro 2004 when Denmark and Sweden shared four goals and both progressed at their expense amid unseemly and unproven allegations.
However, none of that will matter to Duff and his team-mates as they attempt to extend their recent good record against Cesare Prandelli’s side. Ireland drew both home and away with Italy in the last World Cup qualifying campaign.
Indeed, they were only denied victory in Dublin by Alberto Gilardino’s late equaliser and then went on to beat them 2-0 in a friendly in Liege last summer.
It is a game that will also hold special significance for Ireland’s Italian boss Giovanni Trapattoni.
Duff said: “I hope we will be looking forward to it. We will get ourselves up for it.
“We are a proud set of lads and a proud nation, and we want to give people back home and the fans (on Thursday night), especially, something to cheer about.”